Photo: Woods in Sherborn, MA, Summer 2023.

Recently I was asked by my School’s PR people to reflect on a few questions regarding the relationship between business practices and sustainability. They asked some excellent questions, which prompted me to write something down. Below is the first part. The question is: How do sustainable supply chains improve the continuity of supply and protect the environment?

Sustainable supply chains help ensure that products are produced and distributed in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible, while also maintaining a consistent and reliable supply of goods.  Those goals are achieved through multiple pathways.  

First, sustainable supply chains prioritize building strong relationships with suppliers. This includes working collaboratively with suppliers to identify areas for improvement, setting sustainability standards and goals, and providing support and resources to help suppliers meet those standards. By building stronger relationships with suppliers, sustainable supply chains are better able to address any disruptions or challenges that may arise.  A good example is Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices which assess coffee farms against economic, social, and environmental criteria, and are aimed at promoting transparent, profitable, and sustainable coffee growing practices while also safeguarding the well-being of coffee farmers and workers, as well as their communities.  With such practices, Starbucks can ensure more sustainable and continuous supplies of good quality coffee beans in the long run.

Sustainable supply chains also prioritize transparency in their operations. This includes providing detailed information about suppliers, production processes, and environmental and social impacts. By providing greater transparency, sustainable supply chains are better able to identify and address any potential disruptions or challenges in the supply chain.  An example of increased transparency is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, which is a tool that measures the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products. By using the Higg Index, companies can get a detailed picture of their supply chain and identify areas for improvement. This allows them to take steps to reduce their environmental impact, improve worker conditions, and ensure a more sustainable supply chain.

Sustainable supply chains focus on improving efficiency in the production and distribution of goods. This includes reducing waste, optimizing transportation routes, and minimizing energy use. By improving efficiency, sustainable supply chains are better able to maintain continuity of supply while also reducing costs and environmental impacts. For example, IKEA has implemented a number of sustainable supply chain initiatives, including using renewable energy sources in its stores and warehouses, optimizing transportation routes to reduce emissions, and reducing waste in its production processes.  In 2021, IKEA has launched a new supplier program that will allow its 1,600 suppliers to consume 100% renewable electricity in their production. These efforts have not only helped IKEA reduce its environmental impact, but also improve the efficiency of its supply chain, resulting in cost savings and a more reliable supply of goods.

Sustainable supply chains also focus on reducing the risks associated with the production and distribution of goods. This includes identifying and managing risks related to climate change, natural disasters, political instability, and other factors that can disrupt the supply chain. By reducing these risks, sustainable supply chains are better able to maintain continuity of supply.